Rebecca Smith, Olympian
Rebecca Smith is an Olympic medallist and fourth-year nursing student at the University of Calgary

Oct. 6, 2023

Flex Friday: Rebecca Smith

Flex Friday is brought to you by your VP Communications, Undergraduate Nursing Society to showcase the excellence of our undergraduate nursing students at UCalgary

Welcome to another Flex Friday feature of the 23/24 academic year! This week, we are introducing Rebecca Smith, a fourth-year transfer route student completing her preceptorship this fall. Rebecca shares her experiences as a Dinos and Olympic swimmer, and her development of nursing skills and knowledge over the past few years. Meet Rebecca!

Can you describe your journey to nursing?
“I originally was in general sciences [at University of Toronto] for a year, and then took some online courses to get some more credits in while I was swimming. After the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, I decided I wanted to move back to Calgary and get into nursing.”

What drew you to nursing?
“It's something I’ve always wanted to do, and from my perspective with being an athlete, so many don’t have anything to fall back on when they’re done with their sport, so I wanted something to dive back into and continue my education."

I’ve always loved caring for people, and I think nursing gives you that opportunity to build a relationship with people who may be sick or going through a hard time.

"I want to be a light for those people and help them through that while making sure I can promote their health and see them thrive.”

How did you begin your swimming journey?
“I was about eight years old when I first started swimming back in Red Deer, and I did it with my sister. We loved doing it together. I started getting competitive when I was 14, and there was a national coach out in Toronto who wanted me to move when I was 15, but I said ‘no, I’m too young,’ and he asked me again when I was 16 and I said yes! So I moved when I was 16. I did my grades 11 and 12 there and lived with a billet family¹. It was so hard to move away from my family, but it was all to pursue my dream of making the Olympic team and five years later, that dream came true.”

¹A family that hosts and supports athletes away from their homes.

Rebecca Smith Tokyo Olympics

Rebecca Smith won a silver medal in her Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020, swimming the third leg in the heats and the final for the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay.

Have you noticed any parallels between nursing and swimming?
“Just having that high-performance mindset, that perseverance, that diligence, really did transfer into my nursing. Anyone who is in nursing, props to them because it is an intense program: you really need to make sure you spend your time wisely, studying and staying organized. I really made sure I was getting the work done, getting enough sleep, and eating the right foods to keep my energy up for clinicals.”

Have you experienced challenges in juggling both?
“It is very hard. One day I had two lectures, and after the first one, I would run to the pool, make sure I got my two-hour practice in, and run back to my second three-hour lecture. It’s hard to juggle because I train eight times a week.”

Has swimming served as a strength in your nursing experience?
“Having an outlet outside of nursing, seeing other people, being a part of an activity that got my mind off what I was studying helped because once I got off from swimming for a couple hours, I was able to really focus without being dragged down by thinking about school for too long.”

Can you describe your term 7 and now your preceptorship experience?
“In term 7, I was in labour and delivery and postpartum and loved it! It was my first choice for my preceptorship and I got it. There’s lots of new skills because we work mostly with older adults so I’m learning lots.”

What interests you about the perinatal specialization?
“I’ve always had a soft spot for moms and babies. When I was working in the labour and delivery and postpartum specialty last semester, I saw everyone’s situation was so different, whether it be with breathing or feeding - anything can happen. So when I saw their little ones arrive, I just wanted to make sure they were okay before they were being sent home. A lot of their parents were there as well so I enjoy educating them to really care for their baby before sending them home.”

Rebecca with nursing student cohort in hospital

Rebecca's Term 5 group on their final shift on the Burns/Plastics unit at Foothills Medical Centre.

What was the most interesting thing you’ve learned from this population?
“I did enjoy learning the newborn assessment - just how many things there are, like their fontanels, all their sounds are good. I also learned a lot about breastfeeding, which I found really interesting, like the different techniques to make sure the newborn gets all the nutrients they need.”

How have you evolved personally from these experiences?

“I’ve always known this from swimming, but I don’t back down from a challenge. When you’re in this new population, in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for example, with these new challenges and things you haven’t learned before, it can be pretty overwhelming."

"I’ve learned to just take one step at a time and say ‘it's okay I don’t know everything, there’s people around me I can ask who will support me,’ and take it day by day and know you’ll keep learning.”

What was the most memorable moment in nursing school so far?
“For classes, I had such a good group of friends when I was in Terms 5, 6 and 7. We had those two, three-hour lectures a day and some day we would have two exams a day for different classes. My friends and I would meet up at like 6 a.m. to do a quick review of everything before our first one, and then after our first one, we would get food and find an empty classroom and prepare for the second one, which was just a grind. Looking back at those days, how crazy it was and how lucky I was to have that group of friends to go through it with was something I will never forget, even if it was a hard 12-hour class.”

What has been your most successful experience so far?
“In the Fall of 2021 and Winter of 2022, so my terms 3 and 4, but still my first year since I’m in the transfer program, they have the USports Top 8². I was very honoured to be selected in the top eight, based on school and sports. We all went to Ottawa and got this award from the Governor General.”

²The top eight student athletes in universities across Canada, based on academic standing and sports performance.

Rebecca Smith Governor General

Rebecca Smith was one of eight student athletes to receive the Governor General’s Academic All-Canadian Commendation.

Where do you see your career in the future?

“I am really interested in that mom-baby area, so I could see myself working in labour and delivery or the NICU. It’s such a cool thing to be a part of; our bodies can do such amazing things so to be a part of that and bring a newborn into the world, and make sure they’re healthy, and the family feels confident in taking that baby home.”

Can you share any advice for incoming students?
“Be prepared to study a lot. Before starting a semester, it is important to organize your schedule, so when those syllabus come out, block off those study days, block off the exams, and know which important deadlines are coming up. When you’re caught up in clinicals, it’s easy to have things creep up on you, so be organized. Also, find those people in the program to lean on, find that community, because those are the people you’ll spend a lot of time with.”

Can you describe your summers during nursing school?
“Summers are usually busy because of swimming. In the summer of 2022, I had World Champions in Budapest and Birmingham. Just this past summer, I was focusing on finishing my schooling and still training. The goal is to see what I can do to qualify for making the team next May.”

What was the highlight of your week this week?
“So, I’m in the NICU, and I had two day shifts this week. Especially on the day shifts, the parents are usually [on unit], so both of the parents for my two patients were there. It felt really good to give them that reassurance like, ‘Hey, I know this is a difficult time right now, with [their child] in the NICU, but they have a 24/7 watch, and we’re taking really good care of them with their feeds and breathing.’”

What do you like to do for self care?
“Apart from swimming, just hanging out with friends is a big one. I always try and go out during the week, whether it’s for a walk or just for ice cream. Also having that time for myself on weekends: I like to make a meal by myself and have a bath, watch a movie - that just calms me down. It’s a small thing, but it helps me relax and wind down.”

Rebecca and nursing students in hospital

Who is your role model?
“I did look up to a lot of instructors in nursing school: I learned a lot from all of them, whether it be communicating or getting those skills down before performing them on patients. In terms of swimming, one of my best friends - she’s a four-time Olympic medalist. We trained together in Toronto and she’s taught me a lot about performing, showing me how to be diligent and determined and not to ever give up.”

“Through this whole journey though, I’ve really wanted to be that role model for others, whether they are in nursing or in this sport and they want to pursue their education. I want to show them you can do both. It is really hard but if you set your mind towards it, and you love both things, it will work out.”

Where is your favourite place to study?
“A couple places I would go to: the main one is the library, on the fourth or fifth floors just because it was quiet. The other one was, I think the education building, where they have these hanging tables and chairs.”

What is your favourite place to get food on campus?
“The Coffee House - they always have great treats there - and BakeChef.”

Do you have any final words?
“There’s so many people in nursing that have their own things outside of nursing; there’s moms, there’s dads, people have part time jobs, and I think that’s great. Nursing does take a lot of time, but also knowing it is important to have those things outside of nursing, whether that be having one hobby that you take part in one time a week, I think having that balance is necessary.”

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